July 30, 2021


What is a California quail?

Size & Shape

The California Quail is a plump game bird with a short neck and a small head and beak. They have short, broad wings that allow them to fly. The tail is rather long and square in form. Males have a longer topknot than females, with a comma-shaped topknot of feathers reaching forward from the brow.

The California Quail is a beautiful, spherical soccer ball of a bird with a deep gray breast, beautifully scaled underparts, and a unique, forward-drooping head plume. Its stiffly emphasized Chi-ca-go scream is a common sound in chaparral and other brushy areas of California and the Pacific Northwest. California Quail are plentiful yet unnoticed, frequently seen scratching at the ground in large flocks or racing ahead on blurred legs. If they are scared, they will flush to hide, so approach them with caution.

The California quail (Callipepla californica) is mostly distributed throughout the West Coast, from British Columbia to Mexico. It is the most abundant species of quail on the West Coast, preferring semi-open habitats at lower elevations. It likes to avoid mountains, which may explain why it is also known as the valley quail. Although it resembles the Gambel's quail, there are a few key differences between the two. However, many people connect quail with its famous arching crest, which was popularized many years ago in the film "Bambi" (All About Birds 2018).

The California Quail's Description and Life History

As previously stated, the California quail is similar to the Gambel's quail in overall colour and look, but is a little larger, plumper bird. It has a small head, a circular body, a short tail, and small legs. Males and females appear to have a wide range of characteristics. Females are especially well-hidden, with brownish-gray feathers around their head, neck, and upper breast, and tan/cream colored and scaly-looking undersides (All About Birds 2018). They have a short dark brown crest on top of their heads.

Males have gray neck and breast feathers, brown and white wings, and a black face with white accents and a mahogany brown top. Their crest is wide and comma-shaped, arching forward above their face. Their underside/belly is visible from the front as well; it is scaly and creamy yellow, with a cinnamon/chestnut patch in the center (All About Birds 2018). Although their habitats do not usually overlap, the scaly appearance and coloration of their bellies can help differentiate California quail from Gambel's quail.

Male Quail

Males will yell loudly to attract a female and announce their territory when the mating season begins - around January in the south and May in the north (NatureServe 2018; All About Birds 2018). Males will also demonstrate for females by expanding their wings and tail fan, bobbing their heads, and rushing at the female (All About Birds 2018). After mating, females will frequently build their nests on the ground near to dense cover or beneath a log, however they may also build nests in tree branches or use another bird's previous nest.

Ground nests are made by digging a small hole in the ground and filling it with grass and leaves (National Audubon Society 2018). Females generally lay 10 to 17 buff speckled eggs, which she incubates for 18 to 23 days on her own (NatureServe 2018; National Audubon Society 2018). Both parents guide and care for the chicks after hatching, however the chicks eat immediately by pecking at the ground. Females typically have one brood every season, but in years with an abundant food supply, they may have two (National Audubon Society 2018).

Color Pattern

Adult males have a dark gray and brown coat with a black face and prominent white stripes. Females have a lighter brown skin tone and no facial markings. Both sexes have a pattern of white, creamy, and chestnut scales on their bellies. Young birds look like females but have a shorter topknot.


The majority of California Quail's time is spent on the ground, walking and scratching for food. In the morning and evening, they browse under shrubs or on open ground near cover. They usually travel in groups called coveys. Their flight is explosive, yet it only lasts long enough to get them to safety.

You may attract California Quail to your yard by distributing grain or birdseed on the ground and putting thick foliage nearby for shelter. You may discover more about what this bird likes to eat and which feeder is best for it by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.

The California Quail's Range and Habitat

The California quail lives all year on the West Coast, including California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, although it may also be found in British Columbia and Mexico (National Audubon Society 2018). As previously noted, the California quail differs from Gambel's quail and mountain quail, however they do overlap in some regions of the state. Mountain quail and California quail, for example, can be found extremely close to one another in the middle of a hill.

California quail is a tough upland game bird. High desert oak forests, chaparral, pinyon-juniper woodlands, coastal sage scrublands, grasslands, agricultural fields, and backyards all have the right combination of habitat types (NatureServe 2018; All About Birds 2018; National Audubon Society 2018). They are frequently found at lower elevations near water features, such as riparian stream banks, where briars and cottonwoods prevail. They can be found at higher elevations in oak savannas and chaparral.

Range and Habitat

California Quail may be found across California and the Pacific Northwest in chaparral, sagebrush, oak woodlands, and foothill forests. They tolerate people well and may be found in urban parks, suburban gardens, and agricultural areas.

Protozoans in the California Quail's intestines aid in the digestion of vegetables. Chicks acquire protozoans by feeding on the feces of adults.

Many California Quail broods may mingle after hatching, and all of the parents care for the young. People who raise their children in this manner are more likely to live longer lives than those who do not.

California Quail couples call antiphonally, which means that the male and female interchange sounds in a highly coordinated manner.

The California Quail's head plume, or topknot, seems to be a single feather, but it is actually a cluster of six overlapping feathers.

California Quails may regularly go without water as an adaptation to survival in arid regions, relying on insects and succulent plants for hydration. They must find drinking water in order to survive lengthy periods of extreme heat.

The California Quail is the state bird of California, and it has appeared in several Walt Disney films, including "Bambi."

California Quail nests may hold up to 28 eggs. Females may be responsible for these massive clutches by laying eggs in nests other than their own, a technique known as "egg-dumping."

California Quail are both visually appealing and popular among game hunters. They've expanded to other parts of the world, including Hawaii, Europe, and New Zealand.

The oldest California Quail was 6 years and 11 months old.

California Quail Conservation Issues

Throughout its range, the California quail is typically safe (NatureServe 2018). The global breeding population of California quail is estimated to be around 3.8 million birds, with approximately 71% occurring in the United States, 3% in Canada, and 11% in Mexico (All About Birds 2018). The California quail, like the bobwhite quail, is threatened by habitat loss caused by cattle grazing and development. Simultaneously, they are exhibiting their flexibility to growth and may regularly be spotted at backyard bird feeders (National Audubon Society 2018).

Despite the fact that hunters in California alone kill between 800,000 and 1.2 million birds each season, it appears that they are resilient to hunting pressure (All About Birds 2018). Another source of concern is the growing intensity and frequency of wildfires year after year. When coupled with drought circumstances, California quail habitat can be rapidly deteriorated, resulting in a decline in quail population.

California Quail Hunting Possibilities

The California quail may be found in a few western states, but as the name suggests, California is its stronghold and the most popular hunting ground. California upland bird hunting is exciting and diversified, with the chance of completing a "California Slam" on California, Gambel's, and mountain quail. Mountain quail is more common in the highlands, although California quail and even Gambel's quail can be found on the lowlands. Here are a few states where you may hunt them, along with the seasons and possession limits for each.

It is crucial to remember that many states have separate zones with varying season dates, so do your homework to find the precise legal season where you will be hunting.

Season/Possession Limit
October 18-February 09, 2020
September 28-January 26, 2020*
September 19-January 31, 2021
October 12-February 2, 2020
September 1-January 31, 2020
November 2-December 31, 2019
September 28-January 20, 2020*

California quail prefers to reside at elevations less than 5,000 feet. The early successional, broken shrub and young forest patchwork that arises following wildfires is a great place to start, especially if it contains water systems. Because they are most active in the mornings and at night, these are the optimum times to hunt.

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Happy Quails

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